3-years ago Bryan Roth from This Is Why I’m Drunk reached out to local bloggers across the country to each build a 6-pack that represents their state. You can read that list here. About a year before that post I wrote another article on the Cincinnati Six-Pack.
Both of those lists are now hilariously out of date. The best example of this is that Rhinegeist isn’t on either list as they weren’t open yet. I initially sat down to write an update for Ohio’s part in the Six-Pack Project but remembered the difficulty in narrowing an entire state down into six beers. So, I decided to settle down to just a Cincinnati Six-pack, plus a few from Dayton. I also reached out to Pat at Pat’s Pints in Columbus and Rick Armon at The Ohio Beer Blog in Akron/Cleveland. They’ll both be doing similar posts covering their parts of Ohio in the next few weeks.
If homebrewing is a bike, then a 2-vessel brewhouse is your average car, and a 4-vessel brewhouse is a Tesla Roadster. Everyone learns to ride a bike and does so for many years. Many people graduate to cars, usually some cheap or used ride to get them around. Then, finally, a very few get something as profoundly bad ass as a Tesla.
I’ve lost count of all the breweries I’ve visited in the past 11 years, from folks as small as DogBerry to as big as Sierra Nevada. What I can still count, on my hands, is the number of breweries I’ve been to with a 4-vessel brewhouse. To learn more about what a 4-vessel brewhouse is, and their difference from 2-vessel systems, I headed down to Rhinegeist to talk to Head Brewer Jim Matt.
Meet Izzy and her friend Rudi, actually, if you’ve read the blog for a while you already met Izzy as she product tested Brewhouse Dog Bones for me. Izzy is my dog and she loves visiting breweries, but not all breweries love Izzy visiting them, so here’s a list of where four-legged friends are welcome and where they aren’t.
It is hard to find classes to learn about beer, and even harder to find ones with great teachers. Luckily two of our local breweries have started just such classes!
The Bird Haus Beer Series
The Bird Haus bills itself as “Cincinnati’s migrating classroom” where different organizations in the community will host classes on whatever they’re good at. In this case, Rhinegeist is hosting a series of 3 classes: The History of Rhinegeist, All of the Senses, and Study Abroad English Style Ales. I wasn’t aware of the History of Rhinegeist class, but as soon as I learned about All of the Senses I snapped up tickets. An off-flavor class hosted by Rhinegeist head brewer and BJCP National level judge Jim Matt? I’m there!!
Jim led us through the brewing process before pouring us samples of the off-flavors. He used Cougar as the base beer then added different chemicals to it to create a few common off-flavors.
We got to try each off-flavor then discuss and guess what we thought they were. I got half right. Luckily you rarely encounter these issues in homebrew competitions or production breweries. If you are a homebrewer or just curious about how beer can go bad I’d urge you to go to the next class like this. Which, as far as I know, will be next month at MadTree, but more on that soon.
The next Bird Haus/Rhinegeist class is all about the English beer tradition. There are still tickets available for that here. Unfortunately that’s all that’s scheduled for now, but hopefully they’ll line up more classes soon.
Luckily MadTree is kicking off their own Beer Class series!
MadTree Beer Class Series
One day last month I saw this pop-up on MadTree’s Facebook page and immediately snatched up tickets. Head brewer Jeff Hunt led the first class which focused on beer recipe formulation.
We received a great peek into his process for making beers and how the recipe comes together to result in the flavor profile he’s after. The classroom was in MadTree’s front room and homebrewers packed the house. Jeff skipped past the homebrew basics and led us into a discussion that sailed over my head on occasion. We were also treated to a few behind the scene bits about MadTree’s setup.
It wasn’t all just theoretical discussion of how Jeff makes a beer. We sampled 6 MadTree beers and learned why they are what they are, from idea to recipe, to name. Somehow I never knew that Happy Amber’s name came about because of a text auto-correction from Hoppy to Happy.
MadTree just posted the video of the Recipe Formulation class up on YouTube. Go check it out!
I can’t recommend the average beer enthusiast check out this class if they do it again. It was very homebrewer focused and in-depth. Luckily, MadTree has a slate of ideas for other classes lined up! The next class, set for April 22nd, is “Ask us anything”, tickets are already available here for $20 each. Sounds like a good opportunity to pick some of the brewer’s brains about everything from how they got into brewing to their beard care regimen.
May’s class hasn’t been fully nailed down yet though I’m told it’s May 19th and focus on flavor identification. This sounds like what I did at Rhinegeist. If you homebrew, are a beer judge and want a refresher, or are just curious about what can go right and wrong in beer then you’ll want to get tickets to this class.
From the sounds of it MadTree has a few more ideas up their sleeves for various classes. I’m extremely happy that they’re doing this, Rhinegeist has done it, and hopefully more local breweries will catch on with the idea.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 4th, 2015) the Kentucky Senate will vote on HB168. House Bill 168 will redefine the requirements for owning an alcohol distributor in the state of Kentucky. The Kentucky house approved it last week. The Senate’s vote is the last step before the Governor signing the bill into law.
In brief, a distributor is a company that buys beer from the brewery, stores it and employs sales people to convince retailers to sell the beer. Distributors form a part of the 3-tier system. For a full background on the 3-Tier system please see my series from 2013 beginning with my introduction.
Two extremely different companies are very upset about this legislation. I’d like to help clear the air and share my opinion on the situation. The two companies are AB-InBev and Rhinegeist, the elephant in the room and the mouse the elephant is afraid of.
AB-InBev owns a distributor in Louisville and last year they bought a distributor in Owensboro. The purchase of that distributor in Owensboro is what set all this off. Currently, any brewery in Kentucky is unable to own a distributor in Kentucky, but out of state breweries can. 1That is exactly what this law is going to change. Anyone who owns a brewery will be unable to own a distributor in Kentucky, which is where Rhinegeist comes in.
Rhinegeist has used Ohio’s laws that allow a brewery to self-distribute their beer to do exactly that. Yes, self-distribution laws are a
relaxing breaking of the 3-tier system, turning it into a 2-tier system. The way people argue for self-distribution is that Rhinegeist can only self-distribute Rhinegeist. When Rhinegeist decided to expand to Kentucky they couldn’t find a distributor “with the right craft-focus and a small enough portfolio to ensure our mindshare.” to quote Rhinegeist owner’s Bryant Goulding and Bob Bonder’s op-ed in The Courier-Journal. As a result, they decided to open Riverghost Distributing to carry Rhinegeist products and other breweries products, in the state of Kentucky. Now we see why Rhinegeist is siding with AB-InBev. Both AB-InBev and Rhinegeist will have to sell, or close, their distributors in the state of Kentucky if this law passes.
Sorry, Rhinegeist but that’s a GOOD thing
The good thing from my point of view. It’s a bad thing for the owners of Rhinegeist because this means someone else gets a cut of their profit. As it stands now Rhinegeist makes more per beer sold than MadTree does2. Rhinegeist also pays a number of sales people and delivery drivers. Plus they maintain a fleet of vans to enable them to self-distribute. Most breweries have distributors take care of that overhead. So, Rhinegeist losing Riverghost will mean lower profits per beer in Kentucky for the folks at the top. The same on all that goes for the AB-InBev owned distributors as well.
This is a good thing for everyone except these two companies. If Riverghost starts carrying other brands and there comes a day where one store only has one spot available on the shelf, who gets that spot? I have an extremely hard time believing that that spot will be fairly assigned to the product most sought after in that market. That spot will be assigned to Budweiser or Truth.
My biggest problem is that this is a slippery slope that could lead to decreased competition and eventual vertical integration. If a distributor or store is owned by a brewery there is far less reason for that distributor or store to care about other breweries products. Same goes for a distributor owning a store or bar. Why should they push someone else’s product when the folks at the top can make more money pushing the products of the brewery they own?
Part of what has allowed craft beer to explode is the separation of the 3 tiers. Sure, it’s not great but it’s the best we got for now and getting read of, or blurring the lines between, the tiers is not going to help anything. One of the reasons England’s craft beer explosion has been more muted than ours is because of tied houses, where a brewery owns a bar. As I said before, when one tier owns another it lowers the competition. The tied houses in England only serve the beer of the brewery that owns them, unless customer demand for other products reaches an extreme point.
This Will Cost Jobs
Both AB-InBev and Rhinegeist have said that the passage of this bill will cost jobs. That’s only true if AB-InBev and Rhinegeist decide to shut down their distribution companies. They’ve both proven that there is a strong need for these distribution companies to exist. They’re both savvy businesses as well. They’re not just going to dump all the money they’ve invested in this. No jobs will be lost. The only thing that will change is who is at the top of these 3 distributors and that the 3-tier system will be more reinforced in the state of Kentucky.
With the winter holidays upon us and the new year drawing near I’m taking a moment to think about what I’d like to see develop for Cincinnati next year. WCPO’s Jesse Folk hatched this idea to “pick an aspect of the industry or scene that we’d most like to see or change in Cincy.” I’m pretty satisfied with the brewers, bars, and beer stores in the area, so I decided to think out of the box a bit to other fermented products.